Classical Conditioning and My Behaviour

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The 3 Stages
  • Various Classical Conditioning
  • Ivan Petrovich Pavlov
  • Watanabe H., Mizunami M.
  • Classical Conditioning and My Behaviour
  • My Behaviour as Prepared Learning
  • Conclusion


What is classical conditioning? Well, whether we are aware of it or not, it is a part of everyday life, and it has been around for as long as time. Most people have no idea that classical conditioning effect our actions on a daily basis. It can happen anywhere, our homes simply making tea, or being outside playing sports. Classical conditioning is a way of learning what happens when two stimuli are presented together, which then become associated with each other. The term “Classical conditioning” was first discovered by Ivan Pavlov, and this discovery is so closely associated to him that sometimes people tend to name it “Pavlovian Conditioning”. What`s interesting about this phenomenon is how “Classical conditioning” does not only affect humans, but it affects all animals ranging from the smallest bacteria to dogs and elephants. This type of conditioning is also used in advertising and even treating different type of phobias.

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The 3 Stages

Classical conditioning is a type of conditioning that links two stimuli together to produce a new response. Classical conditioning has three stages. The first step, before conditioning, the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) makes an unconditioned response (UCR). This means that there is a stimulus that produces a response, usually a natural response. One example of this would be if a sharp sunlight lights right at us, our face would turn quickly, and our eyes would close fast, humans didn’t have to learn this response it came by nature. Another example of an unconditioned response would be someone touching a very hot cup of coffee and pulling the hand back, or salivation at the sight of food. Stage two, during the conditioning, a new response is presented, the conditioned stimulus. The unconditioned stimulus is tied in with the conditioned stimulus. This stage can last for a couple of hours, to many years. One example of this would be if someone makes a specific sound, for example a whistle whenever a person sees food. In time that one individual would begin to salivate when they hear that whistle. The third stage, after the conditioning, the conditioned stimulus is now fully tied in with the unconditioned stimulus, which creates a new conditioned response (CR). So, the whistle is now the conditioned response.

Various Classical Conditioning

Acquisition – During acquisition, the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus are repeatedly paired to create an association. Multiple pairings are required, but the number of trials needed can vary depending on what is being learned. For example, imagine that you are teaching a dog to fear the sound of a snake. This type of learning will likely occur much more quickly since the dog may already be primed to form such an association. As a result, the acquisition will happen much faster than if you are teaching your dog to play dead.Extinction – is when the occurrences of a conditioned response decreases or disappears. In classical conditioning, this happens when a conditioned stimulus is no longer paired with an unconditioned stimulus. For example, if the smell of food (the unconditioned stimulus) had been paired with

the sound of a whistle (the conditioned stimulus), it would eventually come to evoke the conditioned response of hunger. However, if the unconditioned stimulus (the smell of food) were no longer paired with the conditioned stimulus (the whistle), eventually the conditioned response (hunger) would disappear. Spontaneous Recovery – Sometimes a learned response can suddenly reemerge even after a period of extinction. Spontaneous Recovery is the reappearance of the conditioned response after a rest period or period of lessened response. For example, imagine that after training a hamster to salivate to the sound of a bell, you stop reinforcing the behavior and the response eventually becomes extinct. After a rest period during which the conditioned stimulus is not presented, you suddenly ring the bell and the hamster spontaneously recovers the previously learned response. If the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus are no longer associated, extinction will occur very rapidly after a spontaneous recovery.

Generalization – is the tendency for the conditioned stimulus to evoke similar responses after the response has been conditioned. For example, if a puppy has been conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell, the puppy may also exhibit the same response to stimuli that are similar to the conditioned stimulus. In John B. Watson’s famous Little Albert Experiment, for example, a small child was conditioned to fear a white rat. The child demonstrated stimulus generalization by also exhibiting fear in response to other fuzzy white objects including stuffed toys and Watson own hair.

Discrimination – is the ability to differentiate between a conditioned stimulus and other stimuli that have not been paired with an unconditioned stimulus. For example, if a bell tone were the conditioned stimulus, discrimination would involve being able to tell the difference between the bell tone and other similar sounds. Because the subject is able to distinguish between these stimuli, he or she will only respond when the conditioned stimulus is presented. Higher-Order Conditioning – In higher-order conditioning the presence of the initial CS can actually reinforce a second CS. For example: Your boyfriend or girlfriend used to wear a very unique cologne. Even though you broke up six months ago, you still get a warm feeling on the rare occasion when you smell the cologne on a stranger.

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov

Classical conditioning was discovered by a famous Russian physiologist named Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. After finishing his doctorate degree Ivan Pavlov traveled to Germany to study in Leipzig with Carl Lidwig in Breslau. While in Germany he studied the digestive tract of dogs using the exteriorized section of the stomach. He later fixed the problem with maintaining the external nerve supply and now the exteriorized section is known as the Pavlov pouch. He won the noble prize at the Institute of Experimental Medicine on the gastric functions of dogs and children. This was when he found out that the dogs actually began salivating before they ate the food. He called it the “psychic secretion” when he first found out about it. He began working with Ivan Filippovitch Tolochinov in 1901 to figure out why the dogs began to salivate before the food was given to them. He began using a bell before the food was presented to them, they would then begin to salivate. It is widely believed that Ivan Pavlov only used a bell but he used many things such as,whistles tuning forks, and electric shocks to get the dogs to salivate

Watanabe H., Mizunami M.

The most recent experiment that was done to test classical conditioning was created by Watanabe H, Mizunami M. This experiment was done with American cockroaches, “Periplaneta Americana”, and instead of sound, scents were used. The cockroaches would receive drops of sugar syrup, and then a sound would play. After many repetitions the cockroaches would begin to salivate when they simply hear the sound. This was a very important experiment because this proves that classical conditioning not only affects dogs and humans, but also cockroaches.

Classical Conditioning and My Behaviour

As we have come to learn, Classical conditioning influences our behavior, because our mind associates feelings, sense of smell, thoughts, memories in other words as mentioned, the conditioned stimulus is now fully tied in with the unconditioned stimulus, which creates a new conditioned response (CR). However, it can also treat phobias. The most common phobia in the world is arachnophobia, which is the fear of spiders. This phobia can actually be treated with counter-conditioning. But before I get to the counter conditioning, I will first explain the generalization of my classical conditioning. Stimulus generalization occurs when a response spreads from one specific stimulus to other stimuli that resemble the original (in my case responding to anything that resembled what I feared, which was dark creepy spiders) I use to be so scared of dark creepy spiders when I was small, that anything dark with the slightest resemblance on the floor use to make me scream and I would have a severe panic attack. The neutral stimulus (NS) in this scenario is spiders, the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) is spiders/ spider looking objects on the floor. The unconditioned response (UCR) is my fear. The conditioned stimulus (CS) would be spiders/ spider looking objects, which resulted to my conditioned response (CR) fear. Counter conditioning however, is based on the principles of classical conditioning that attempts to replace bad or unpleasant emotional responses to a stimulus with more pleasant, adaptive responses. That`s exactly what happened to me. As mentioned, as a small girl I use to cry and scream over the smallest spider, even though the spider eventually went away, or anything resembling a spider ( like mentioned generalization) I would still cry for hours because just the sight of a spider made me so scared. It was an intense fear, that I had since I was 2 till I was 8 years old.

Eventually my mother felt she had to do something, because it became tiring when the slightest dark object thing on the floor would scare me badly. She was advised by a child therapist to show me a picture of a spider, and then give me a “relaxing stimuli” so that the next time that I actually saw a spider I will associate the spider with that relaxing stimuli. My mother was hesitating on this advice, but was assured that the “relaxing stimuli” could be something as simple as a cookie, a toy that I liked, or a song I enjoyed. Therefore, every third day my mom presented a photo of a spider, and sang the song “itzty bitzy spider” to make me remember that the spider was a little victim of the rain, not a scary little monster as I always saw them as. At first, I screamed and cried when my mom showed me the spider book, (even thought it was a cartoon spider!) this is expected when going through classical counter conditioning, the fear or phobias cannot be cured by initiating counter conditioning once. Counterconditioning is very similar to extinction seen in classical conditioning. It is the process of getting rid of an unwanted response. But in counterconditioning, the unwanted response does not just disappear, it is replaced by a new, wanted response. The conditioned stimulus is presented with the unconditioned stimulus. However, the outcome of this process can vary from hours to years. So, in order for counter conditioning to take place, time is essential. Therefore, it took me a good 3 months to associate the scary spiders, with poor “itzy bitzy spiders”. The new conditioned response when seeing a spider got me thinking of the story of the itzy bitzy spider, which triggered compassion instead of fear, because I had been conditioned with the song for 3 months. Therefore, my brain associated spiders, with helpless victims being washed away by the rain (as the song goes). Furthermore, my compassion became the conditioned response in this matter. I did not react in fear as I use to every time I saw a spider afterwards, but with compassion in getting the spider out to its natural sunny environment. I still have the same compassionate reaction when I see spiders till this day. My changed behavior is a result of counter conditioning.

My Behaviour as Prepared Learning

Another interesting factor and theory that also played a part of my past behavior is “Preparedness”. Martin Seligma Seligman asked, why are some phobias so much more common and difficult to treat than others? He pointed out that the most common phobias involved spiders, snakes, and small animals such as rats. This confirms what I mentioned previously, that one of the most common phobia in the world is arachnophobia, which is the fear of spiders. These phobias are also the most difficult to treat. Hence, the amount of time it took for me to finally get over my arachnophobia. However, in our modern world, more people are hurt by hammers and electrical outlets than by spiders and snakes. So why do psychologists hear no complaints about hammer phobias, or electrical outlet phobias? Well, Seligman suggested that the common phobias must be biologically prepared by evolution. (the DNA that encourages such a fear response). By contrast, we do not fear hammers and automobiles

because they were not a threat to our ancestors, so we have no built-in bias against them. Therefore, my phobia was also a result of preparedness.


Classical conditioning plays a huge role in our lives. Classical conditioning can be easily seen in commercials in the newspapers, magazines, TV and billboards. Some of the best designed commercials are played during the Superbowl where a single 30 second commercial costs $3.5 million. These commercials have to be perfectly designed so they attract as many people as they can, therefore Classical conditioning is used to attract as many consumers as possible. One example of this would be the beer commercials, especially the Budweiser ones. People drinking the beer always have unlimited freedom always having a good time with friends, which is associated with the beer. People think they will experience the same feeling if they buy the beer. Another famous company that uses classical conditioning in its commercials is coco-cola. In almost all of the commercials the drink is tied in with happiness. As a result of this when people go to the store and look at all the soda, they will see coco-cola and then associate it with happiness, without even realizing what implanted that thought into them. Therefore, understanding how classical conditioning operates and changes our behavior over time is essential for our own knowledge. It is important to be aware of exactly why we change our behavior at times, so that we can better understand ourselves. As presented earlier, counter conditioning is remarkable way to cure phobias, that has made our lives difficult. The counter conditioning method makes it possible to understand what can be done to achieve a wanted outcome. I also believe that it is healthy to know how Classical Conditioning is a method used for a manipulation purpose, in advertising. We need to be aware that these adverts are here to sell an illusion, by using Classical Conditioning, in order for us to be lured into buying their product. But now that we are aware, we can identify it in our ever day lives.

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